The Unspoken Obligations of Entrusted Trust

Ownership of self and the building of trust

Posted Jan 30, 2014

Some headlines give pause. One of those was the discovery that 34 U.S. Air Force officers entrusted with launch duty for nuclear missiles, were removed for cheating, tolerating, or not reporting cheating on proficiency tests. While burnout, stress, and pressure for high scores to advance were cited as partial reasons, the situation raises questions for all of us.

What happens to trust when we look the other way? Are we still worthy of being trusted by those counting on us? What do our actions and inactions say about us? Too many people see accountability only as it relates to other's actions. When trust is broken or things go wrong, someone needs to be "held accountable."

After all, accountability is an expectation of trust. But the kind of accountability that builds trust isn't after the fact, or happening only when someone is checking up on us. Real accountability is the ability to be counted on. Real accountability requires the management of self.

Ultimately, it's a choice to be worthy of the trust given; to own actions, decisions, omissions, and mistakes; to operate with self-awareness and behavioral integrity. People who make that choice understand accountability's role in trust-building. They approach accountability from the vantage point of being personally accountable—the ownership of self. Self-management enables real accountability and trust-building. And real accountability is the unspoken obligation of authentic trust.

Self-awareness is a necessity to meet that obligation. Consider what real accountability looks like to others at work. Here are a few of the unspoken obligations that people worthy of others' trust at work meet. How many are true about you?

1. Taking ownership of decisions, actions, behaviors, and results, with or without anyone looking on; answerable to yourself about yourself.

2. Holding oneself to a higher standard than others hold you; operating with the understanding and resulting actions that not doing wrong is not the same as doing right.

3. Applying a big team mindset by working in support of the organization's vision, values, and/or mission; supporting its goals and objectives.

4. High behavioral integrity; words and actions are in alignment.

5. Quality of work reflects personal character, ethics, integrity, and talents.

We can point fingers at Air Force officers who broke our trust, or find lament in the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer findings that "trust in government plunges to historic low." But if we do, we make the problem of broken trust about "them."

By doing that, we miss the fact that in today's world, trust is a local issue. Broken trust and its resulting problems face workplaces across this country. It not about "those" people; it's about us in our individual work groups. Can people trust you? Count on you? Really count on you? Are you worthy of their trust and the unspoken obligations it brings? These are questions we should all be asking.

More about the trust currency you need in the new workplace and how to build it:

You'll find more trust building approaches in Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation (Career Press, 2013).

About the Author

Nan S. Russell is a former corporate executive and the author of four books, including, Trust, Inc. and The Titleless Leader.

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